Eye on Education

Why It’s So Hard for Rural Schools to Pass Levies

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

There are no walls or doors between classrooms at Warren Local schools. Instead, the school has put up bookshelves and lockers as makeshift walls.

Carrollton Schools in rural Carol County hasn’t passed a levy since 1977. Union Local Schools in rural Belmont County hasn’t passed an operating levy since 1976. And the mid 1990′s was the last time officials at Warren Local Schools in rural Washington County managed to pass a levy for new funds to run the district.

Tom Gibbs, the superintendent at Warren Local, says he’s tried to pass six levies in the last four years, and failed each time.

In fact, since 2000, Washington County has passed just 20 percent of its schools requests for new local money.

Compare that to Franklin County, which includes Columbus. It has passed 51 percent of all new school levy requests. Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, has passed 43 percent of theirs over the last 13 years.

Ohio has a rural-urban funding gap, and it shows.

It Shows

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Warren Local teachers Joy Edgell, Danielle Rinard and Julie VanDyk say they lobby for their schools levies, but with little success.

Warren Local’s grade school is a remnant of the 1970’s open classroom movement. There are no walls or doors between classrooms, and few windows. Over the years the district added bookshelves and lockers as makeshift walls, but they’re only about shoulder length high.

“We have more and more kids that have special needs and it’s just tough for them to tune out,” says first grade teacher Danielle Rinard.

Here’s the rest of the tab for not passing levies: Two school buildings closed, freezes in teacher pay, 90 positions eliminated and cuts in high school bussing.

It’s belt tightening to the point of punching more holes in the belt.

“I’m not necessarily saying that people don’t support the schools,” Gibbs says. “It’s that they’re finding it more and more difficult to say that they can support the school through paying higher property tax.”

Why People Won’t Vote for School Levies

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Karen Vancamp and Glenn Newman say schools could and should do more with the money they have, without asking taxpayers for new funds every year.

At an art gallery in nearby Marietta, Glenn Newman and Karen Vancamp sell everything from Thomas Kinkaid paintings to Ohio State Buckeye’s gear. The couple, born and raised in Washington County, say local teachers are overpaid.

“Our average salaries are so low for the private sector and they see that they’re paying a lot of money to the teachers who have no more education, no more responsibility than they have,” Vancamp says.

The median per capita income in Washington County is about 23,400 dollars, according to the latest census data. The median teacher salary at Warren Local is double that – more than 56,000 dollars. Keep in mind, only 15 percent of people in Washington County have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

The couple says teachers should make sacrifices, like pay cuts of 25 to 30 percent.

And they should stop asking for a levy to build a new school.

“People would be willing to pay to fix the buildings you have,” Vancamp

says. “But they’re not going to pay to build a new building that is not going to improve anybody’s education.”

And they say, Superintendent Gibbs and his staff aren’t very popular, calling them “elitist bureaucrats.”

But, at the end of the day, after all the local politics and financial debates, the couple says it ultimately comes down to one thing.

“The trust is broken.”

“The trust is broken.”

And that trust has been broken for a long time.

Vancamp says it goes back to when several local districts were consolidated to form Warren Local Schools.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

The wave of consolidation in the late 1960's and early 1970's hit rural districts particularly hard.

Back in the late 60’s Ohio and many other states opted to combine small school districts to make sizeable ones like Warren Local. But a lot of people lost their schools, and with it a significant part of their social life and local identity.

“There was a lot of that hometown pride,” Newman says. “And it really persists in many ways even today.”

Vancamp and Newman were among the first to graduate from the newly consolidated district.

Vancamp says there was a lot of fanfare about moving into the new district with its brand new building. But things didn’t turn out as well as many had hoped.

“After we got there I think we felt like we had gone from a nice school to a barn,” she says. “It was kind of hayseed.”

She says people used to refer to the new Warren Local School as “the cow palace.”

“People hold grudges.”

This is an argument Warren Local first grade teacher Julie Vandyk has heard many times before.

“People hold grudges,” she says. “For something that happened 60 years ago and they’re going to bring it till the end. Which is a hard thing to swallow for me because I think we need to let go of the past and look towards the future.”

Vandyk and her fellow teachers lobby for the levies the district puts on the ballot. They would like doors and walls between their classrooms, air conditioning in the school, and for the leaky roof in the high school to be fixed already.

But, they say, it’s a tough battle against local voters who are not convinced the district needs the new funds.

Here’s the thing though – despite the failed levies, the budgetary diet – students here still perform well on state tests. The district is rated above average, and last year it was rated excellent.

Gibbs, the superintendent, says in an odd way, that too makes it harder to pass levies.

The next local levy battle will be in May of 2014.





Note: A previous version of this story identified Karen Shaner as the owner of the Marietta Art Gallery. Karen Shaner is an employee at the gallery, but not the owner. Karen Vancamp was the owner and the individual interviewed for this story.



  • duckmonkeyman

    When people quote mean or median salaries to compare against teacher salaries, they ignore such factors as education level and type of work. Comparing a teaching position requiring a degree in mathematics against a part-time high school student flipping burgers is nonsensical. Teachers are worth every penny of their salaries. I would tell the teacher-bashers – if you think education is expensive, wait till you pay for ignorance.

  • http://www.havecoffeewillwrite.com Jeff Hess

    Good morning all,

    I, and my three younger siblings,graduated from the Warren Local School District (class of ’73 for me) and an
    important piece of tax information is missing from the story.

    the ’60s and into the ’70s, the school district received massive
    infusions of tax money from the manufacturing plants along the Ohio
    River. As more and more manufacturing left the county that money dried
    up, leaving individual property owners to pick up the slack.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,


    • IdaZL

      Hi Jeff,

      That’s a good point. There was also the recent phase out of the tangible personal property tax which was felt by some districts: http://www.timesreporter.com/newsnow/x1700911101/Property-tax-phaseout-worries-schools. Unfortunately we couldn’t get to everything in this story, but thank you for pointing that out.

      Ida Lieszkovszky

    • Mark J. Slutz

      It all connects to Ohio’s bizarre funding formula. If funding were truly balanced and fair, a district such as Warren Local would suffer such huge revenue losses when a particular business or industry disappears. It’s absurd that an Orange or Beachwood can exist in the same state with regard to funding.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sue.harris.315865 Sue Harris

    I graduated in 74 from Warren Local High School, as well as my 4 brothers and sisters. I am appalled that people are holding onto a grudge from 60 years ago, and I certainly never heard of that grudge while I was in school–or as an adult. Saying that teachers don’t have any more education than residents of the area when so few residents have even a Bachelor’s degree is not true and frankly ridiculous. Yes, teachers have a degree and they also have to continue their education–it is required by the state if they want to keep their certification. Teachers do do much for their communities and they deserve to make a decent living.

  • Sharon S Love

    This is in response to the Newman/Shaner comments. How about if all of Warren Local Teachers AND staff came to your store at YOUR ART GALLERY and you give us all a 25-30% discount on our purchase? Well now I think the teachers and staff from Warren Local will NOT be coming to your store for anything. I am not talking for all of Warren Local but from the ones I have heard talk about this comment, they will never come there again. If you think we have no Responsibility come one day and do our job. Heck just volunteer in the teachers rooms, in the lunch room, the computer lab with kindergarten students. Do recess with the students then say the teachers and staff have no responsibility. Go to college and get a teaching degree and then pay back all the student loans that HAVE to be paid back. Yes we all have RESPONSIBILITES.

  • Sharon S Love

    Please read my comment.

  • Proud Mom

    The biggest problem is that people who live in our district do not value education. Only 15% have a college degree and have the mentality that people do not need to go to college. In this global society, we need education more than ever. I am so thankful for the Warren Local Teachers. I can’t believe what they do with what they have. I think that everyone should have to spend two days in one of the schools in the next few weeks. I bet they could not even make it thru one day…with temperatures of 100F. They treat their animals better than they do our children.

    • Sue Kuhn

      I agree totally! Both of my boys graduated from Warren and I support this school system because both of my boys were well prepared for college and life through this school system. Warren Elementary & Warren High are filled with great teachers who take time to work the students and also work in our community to make it.better. I will support the levy again-I will but up the sign in my yard and I will tell others about the great school system and I will vote for the levy again.

  • Sandra

    You would think that an area with few people with a college education would be so proud to have one of their children go on to college – that comes with GOOD teaching! That comes with adequate funding!

  • http://www.facebook.com/janet.williams.3701779 Janet Williams

    Ignorant comment ! Now nobody will shop at his store. I will never go there again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janet.williams.3701779 Janet Williams

    Hey store owner, that will be going out of business soon what’s your annual income?

  • Ben Prunty

    So glad I moved out of that area and never to return, I now live in Virginia Beach where every school in the city but 1 made it into the top 2000 in the country. Our property taxes are high compared to many cities and states in this union but our the education here is top notch. 3 colleges within the city limits 10 different high schools each with a senior population approaching 2000 students, constant redistricting to add new high schools and primary schools to ensure the students are taken care of. the MOV should be ashamed as should the comments of Mrs Vancamp and Mr Newman. I many time when coming back to visit my parents would go there to grab some OSU memorabilia but no longer will that happen.

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